National championship participants comes down to last week of season

PITTSBURG, Kan. – One week is left before the participants for this year’s National Junior College football championship are known. While both teams face top ten opponents, with wins this week, it should be No. 1 Mississippi Gulf Coast (10-0) and No. 2 Lackawanna (9-0) facing off December 5 in Pittsburg, Kansas.

Mississippi Gulf Coast has held the No. 1 spot since October 7. In their conference semifinal last week Mississippi Gulf Coast easily took down the reigning national champions, No. 16 East Mississippi (6-4), in a 31-7 win. Gulf Coast quarterback Chance Lovertich threw for 308 yards and a touchdown in the win, while the team’s defense racked up six sacks against East Mississippi. Linebacker Navonteque Strong led the charge with three sacks, another four quarterback hurries, and added an interception for 26 yards.

This Saturday, Mississippi Gulf Coast faces No. 4 Northwest Mississippi (8-2) in the MACJC Championship game. Northwest Mississippi is on the outside looking in having climbed to No. 4 from No. 10, after beating the new No. 10, Jones (7-2), in their 24-17 semifinal game. This game was tied at 17 going into the 4th quarter. While Northwest wide receiver Braden Smith had seven catches for 164 yards and a touchdown, it was Mack Martin III’s lone catch for 38 yards that gave Northwest Mississippi the touchdown to give them the lead. Northwest’s defense held Jones to six for 16 on 3rd downs, while also forcing three interceptions. A win this week over Mississippi Gulf Coast could put Northwest Mississippi into the championship game, but they may need a little help.

Lackawanna has been No. 2 since the October 28 poll. This past week Lackawanna destroyed the NJ Warriors 59-0 and now have a 20 game unbeaten streak dating back to last season. Against the Warriors, Lackawanna had an easy 21-0 lead at the half, and during the second half kept the ball on the ground other than one pass play. Running back Calvin Bell finished the game with 183 yards rushing, while back Rashard Jackson finished with 139 yards. Both backs had two TD’s. Defensively, this was their third shutout of the season.

Lackawanna faces a much stronger opponent this Sunday against No. 9 Georgia Military (8-2). Earlier in the season, Georgia Military lost 24-14 to ASA College (Miami), but in a rematch this past weekend, they avenged that loss with a 35-0 win. Georgia Military is now averaging 199 yards rushing per game, while only allowing 60 yards rushing per game, which could cause problems for Lackawanna.

Losses by either Mississippi Gulf Coast or Northwest Mississippi means last year’s national runner-up still has a shot at returning to Pittsburg. Last season, current No. 3 Garden City (8-2) lost the national championship in a defensive battle to East Mississippi. This season, under new head coach, Tom Minnick, Garden City opened the season with a 30-27 loss to No. 14 Snow (5-3), then later lost 31-28 to No. 12 Independence (6-3). Following last week’s 20-19 win over No. 6 Hutchinson (8-2), six points are currently all that has kept Garden City from an undefeated season. But they face another challenge this Saturday, going to No. 11 Butler (8-3), who is coming off a 23-13 loss to No. 5 Iowa Western (7-3). This week, Iowa Western faces unranked Highland (5-4).

Last week, Hutchinson was No. 4 in the nation but their loss to Garden City essentially ends their hopes of going to the national title game. Last week’s No. 3, Kilgore, lost 20-10 in the first round of their own conference playoff. Now ranked No. 7, Kilgore (8-2), ended their regular season with the loss to No. 18 New Mexico Military (6-4).

For the complete poll from November 4, 2019, visit NJCAA.org/sports/fball/polls.

The NJCAA Football Championship game will be held Thursday, December 5 at 5 p.m. CST at Carnie Smith Stadium in Pittsburg, Kansas. Tickets are on sale and can be purchased by calling (620) 235-4796, or visiting NJCAAFootballChampionship.com and clicking “Tickets”.

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